Oklahoma Democrats chose Saturday to give their party chairman another two-year stint in office instead of selecting a state senator who promised she would bring diversity to the party.
Wallace Collins, a former state representative from Norman, won a hotly contested race, defeating Sen. Constance Johnson, D-Forest Park. The vote was 326-214.
“It was kind of a dogfight and I kind of expected that,” Collins said after the votes were tallied. “For me to win out over a sitting senator as popular as she is … was a terrific victory. The party wants to have continuity.”
After losing her bid for chairman, Johnson made a bid for vice chairman. Incumbent Dana Orwig won re-election, 282-217. Wallace and Orwig, elected to their posts in 2011, ran as a team.
About 750 delegates showed up for the daylong convention at the Oklahoma City Marriott, 3233 Northwest Expressway. The gathering was much more orderly than two years ago when credentialing of delegates caused voting total irregularities, causing elections to drag on for several hours.
Collins said that during his tenure as chairman the Oklahoma Democratic Party completed the effort of his predecessors to pay off a $36,000 debt owed to the Internal Revenue Service since 2006.
Collins said the party has made efforts to reach out to various ethnic groups and races to recruit members, such as appearing in the Martin Luther King Jr. and gay pride parades in Oklahoma City, as well as taking part in festivals put on by the Asian and Hispanic communities in Oklahoma City.
When he took office two years ago, Collins said he was surprised to find only one picture of President Barack Obama, a Democrat, hanging in state party headquarters. Several pictures of the president are now displayed in party offices, he said.
Oklahoma Democrats took another beating at the polls in November. Obama again failed to win a single county and for the first time in state history Republicans occupy the entire state's congressional delegation, all statewide elected offices and both chambers of the Legislature.
Collins said the party will continue to recruit candidates and work with Democrats to get elected to local races so they might consider a legislative or statewide contest later.
Johnson said she would have worked to reconnect, rebuild and restore the Democratic Party
Johnson, vying to become the first sitting legislator to be the state's top Democrat since then-Rep. Mike Mass held the post from 1999 until 2001, said she sought to bring diversity to the party.
“I believe Oklahoma's demographics have shifted,” she said after the elections. “Our party should have been willing to reflect that in terms of our leadership.”
Johnson said she wanted to work to attract various groups to the Democratic Party.
Earlier, former Oklahoma U.S. Sen. Fred Harris, 82, gave a stirring speech, encouraging Democrats to work harder for candidates and to support the president.
“We're due for a turning,” he said. “We've got to keep fighting.”